By Bill Poteat firstname.lastname@example.org
Ain't nothing fancy, as my momma used to say, about the South Fork River Park.
But you really don't need fancy when you have a well-groomed walking trail through a stately, old-growth forest that leads down to the gently flowing waters of the South Fork River.
And you certainly don't need fancy when you're sitting on a comfort.able bench watching the October sunlight play on those waters as the last of the morning mist quietly disappears and a great blue heron rises majestically from the opposite shore.
Sound like a little piece of heaven here in Gaston County? It is indeed.
LOCATION: South Fork River Park is at 4185 Mountain View St. On Google Maps the location is listed as being in Gastonia, although Mountain View Street is actually closer to both Mount Holly and Stanley than it is to G-Town. As you travel either north or south on Hickory Grove Road, keep your speed slow or you'll drive right by Mountain View. A tiny green sign points toward the park, but you'd be better served to watch for the much bigger and more easily visible New Bethel Baptist Church sign instead.
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. A sign warns that the gate to the small, unpaved parking area is locked promptly at 9 each night and that any cars still inside will have to stay there until the following morning. There is no lighting, either on the trails or in the parking lot, so in reality the hours are sunrise to sunset.
FACILITIES: One portable toilet is located in the parking lot. That's it. No dog park. No picnic shelters. No shuffleboard courts.
FUN WITH FIDO: Your hound is welcome here, so long as he is on a leash and under your verbal command. (That's what the sign says, but truth is, very few dogs, or husbands, I have known have been truly under verbal command.)
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: Definitely the Ed Young Trail, a one-mile loop leading down to the river, the forest through which that trail passes, the panoramic view of the South Fork at trail's end, and the quiet and serenity waiting there.
I visited South Fork River Park on a quiet Wednesday morning in mid-October, refreshingly cool but not yet frosty. The parking lot was empty when I arrived and when I departed, leaving the entire park to me alone for more than an hour.
Well, not really to me alone. I was about a quarter-mile down the Ed Young Trail, admiring the beauty of the forest and wondering how it will look when the colors change, when I rounded a curve and found myself face to face with one of the largest buck deer I have ever encountered. His stately antlers catching the morning sunlight, we stared at each other for a few moments. Only when I reached for my cell phone did the big boy snort and then bound off into the woods. Pretty amazing stuff.
Equally amazing was the SO-yard or so open expansion along the river to which the trail leads. Two picnic tables and several benches are scattered here, with all of them affording an excellent view of the South Fork as it meanders by.
If l had either more time or a more understanding boss, I would have lingered on one of those benches. content to watch the morning sun rise higher while looking for other waterfoul other than the noisy heron who first squawked and then flew downstream toward McAdenvile and Cramerton.
MY VERDICT: Great little park. A perfect place to slow down, walk a little, and yet be treated to a host of nature's sights, sounds, and smells. My first visit will most definitely not be my last.
Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855.